Do you worry that your anxiety over your child developing melanoma might be unrealistic, but you just can’t help obsessively inspecting their moles and imagining the worst?
Yes, melanoma occurs in children, even those with olive skin. In fact, no dermatologist will ever say that a child with dark skin is immune to this deadly skin cancer.
But let’s put things into perspective to ease your ongoing anxiety or obsession about melanoma affecting your child or teen.
“According to the American Academy of Dermatology Diagnosis, the number of cases diagnosed in child patients is between 300 and 400 each year,” says Dr. Gretchen Frieling, MD, Triple Board Certified Boston Area Dermatopathologist.
“This makes it rare in children and can look different on them than it does on adults,” continues Dr. Frieling.
“However, the ABCDEs can still help parents identify suspicious lesions. In any patient, child or adult, early diagnosis can alleviate some of the burdens of the condition and/or the treatment.”
One of the biggest differences between many cases of childhood melanoma and that affecting adults is that in the young population, the tumor is often one color.
We are taught that a mole of changing colors over time, or a mole that we’ve never noticed before (e.g., first-time skin self-exam) that has multiple colors, needs to be examined by a dermatologist.
This can create the idea that a mole of one uniform color is benign. But kids can have a melanoma that seems to be a harmless mole of one color.
This is why it’s important to be aware of other changes that can get a dermatologist’s attention, such as fast changes in the spot’s size and shape, and even new elevation, in that previously it was flat.
Another sign that a dermatologist would be interested in is if there’s one mole that looks different from all of your child’s other moles.
• It’s much darker than the rest.
• Or, all her moles are very dark, but one is very light brown.
• All are round, but one has jagged edges or is very large.
At the same time, parents need to know that it’s perfectly normal for benign moles to begin appearing throughout childhood.
While you should be familiar with your child’s moles, there is no reason to let anxiety get the best of you.
Remember, 300 to 400 new diagnoses each year in the U.S. means that this disease isn’t just rare in kids – it’s outright exceedingly rare.
Nevertheless, it’s a smart idea to simply view the moles from time to time – discreetly, so as not to transfer any anxiety or self-consciousness onto your child.
At the same time, do not become obsessive over an illness that strikes only 300-400 kids a year!
Signs of Obsessing Over Your Child’s Moles
• You created a mole map for every mole, either by placing dots on a pre-illustrated child’s body, or drawing sections of your child’s body yourself and placing the dots there.
• You take pictures of your child’s moles and study them.
• You compare the pictures to previous pictures.
• You use an app for mole checking on your child.
• You inspect his moles, from top to bottom, every month without fail, and inspections aren’t quick.
• You frequently ask her questions such as, “Have you noticed that mole before?” “Has that mole always looked like that?” “Does that mole seem darker lately?”
Dermatologists urge parents to be vigilant about their children’s skin health. But at the same time, it’s crucial to keep things in perspective and be realistic rather than a worry wort.
“This can cause them stress and anxiety if they are a parent and hovering over a child’s every mole or spot,” says Dr. Frieling.
“This can distress the child and even transmit some anxiety and fear to the child.”
How to Ease Fear of Melanoma Developing in Your Child:
Facts to Know, Practices to Do
• New moles, again, normally develop throughout childhood and the teen years.
• Because new moles are always developing, it’ll be normal to notice some getting bigger very gradually over time.
• Location of a newly developing mole is not indicative of an increased likelihood of melanoma.
• Moles can be flesh colored, tan, any shade of brown and even almost black.
• Take your child in for an annual skin check by a pediatric dermatologist. This annual exam will go a long way at easing your anxiety.
• Make application of sunblock a non-negotiable routine prior to time spent outdoors.
• It’s perfectly okay to put sunblock on a baby. No baby should ever get a tan, let alone sunburn.
Stop worrying and obsessing. Instead, focus on things that are more likely to harm your child such as not wearing a seatbelt and not being trained in stranger safety!
Here’s a very in-depth article on the difference between melanoma in children and melanoma in adults.
Dr. Frieling’s website is gfacemd.com. In addition to 10+ years of experience in dermatology and dermapathology, Dr. Frieling provides advanced micro-enhancement techniques to optimize the health and beauty of her patients’ skin.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.